Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Winter Dreams" (1922)

Read story by F. Scott Fitzgerald online.

F. Scott Fitzgerald published this story in 1922 and it's standard fare in many ways, more in the vein of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, though it is also considered a foundational story for The Great Gatsby. A young man from Minnesota—"Black Bear Lake," as opposed to the White Bear Lake which actually exists there—goes East for an Ivy League education, returns home, sets up in business, and eventually moves to New York City. Dexter Green is his name. Getting rich is his game. The woman he falls for, Judy Jones, is a kind of early pastiche of Daisy Buchanan and especially Jordan Baker, both in The Great Gatsby—beautiful, and careless. Dexter falls in love with her almost at first sight, when she is 11 and he is just a few years older. Not much happens beyond random lifelong encounters between them, though it is marked by Fitzgerald's gift for wonderfully extravagant language. Describing a summer evening scene by a lake, for example, he writes, "Then the moon held a finger to her lips and the lake became a clear pool, pale and quiet." Lines like that are one of the main reasons it's so difficult to make a movie of his work. He casts spells that only words can. Meanwhile, Dexter is busy getting rich and Judy is busy breaking hearts. That's what we do in a Fitzgerald story. It's also apparent from this story and the way it moves, again, why Fitzgerald had such a hard time accepting the realities of America and the world in the Great Depression '30s. He preferred the middle-class greed fantasies of the '20s, the "roaring" '20s, which he had a hand in inventing and mythologizing. So the people in this story golf and belong to country clubs, spend summers at lakes sailing, and in general extol the virtues of wealth (I use the word "virtues" ironically). Fitzgerald's characters are more or less innocents, these men falling in love with jaunty chicks. But it's a very white world and I'm not talking about the snow. It's a world scrubbed free of common troubles of the masses, a world of rank privilege. The justification, which he doesn't really even bother with, is "the human condition," people forever unsatisfied and into mischief. I'm prone to forgive Fitzgerald some because he could be such a peculiarly good writer. Even the names he comes up with are just wonderful: Dexter Green, who loves money, and first earned it as a golf caddy at the country club. Judy Jones (much later, Judy Simms). T.A. Hendrick. Mr. Hart and Mr. Sandoval (golfers). Krimslich (Dexter's mother's maiden name). Irene Scheerer (Dexter's fiancée). As for the title, it seems beside the point, in many ways. But I suppose it's an allusion to the ideal Fitzgerald had of the experience of growing up in the Midwest, dreaming to get money, a specific experience shared by Dexter Green and Jay Gatsby. For fans only.

Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review, Jeff -- it inspired me to get out my Fitzgerald anthology to read and enjoy "Winter Dreams" yet again, precisely for the magic of his words, as you've noted. I don't share his obsessive theme of status-seeking (much of which seems to have come from his eternal passion to win the hand of Zelda Sayre, whose family was somewhat wealthier than his own), but the written romance he derives from this quest always enraptures me. And despite Fitzgerald's perfect exemplification of the excesses of the 1920's, I think he was likely less interested in wealth as an end, but rather as the Gatsbian means to realize his romantic fantasies.

    I like your comment about Fitzgerald's "very white world," as I think it was from one of his characters that I first came across that now-blessedly-obsolete expression of thanks, "That's awfully white of you." Just what a Princeton man would say, I guess. I've since heard it in movies from the '30s too, so it was apparently routine in Fitzgerald's day, but of course grates on our '60s-onward sensibilities. For a further inquiry into Fitzgerald's racial attitudes, it might be interesting to study his story "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" (also from 1922), with its rich white survivalist holed up in Montana with the gem of the title, his whole operation protected by by a brigade of servile "negro" soldiers. This story always disappoints me, both for its racial condescension, and because I want it to be about one of Fitzgerald's romantic young men buying a diamond ring at the Ritz department store to impress a Zelda-like beauty, rather than this gloomy tale of some quasi-fascist hoarding that literal lump. But that's another review. -- R. Riegel